Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Can You Say "Grateful" Enough?

This week has been incredibly exhausting. But now it's Saturday and I was only in my classroom for four hours today. I was able to reflect as I was trying to sort through the madness that happened this week with parties and field trips (yes, we had more than one of each this week).

The biggest realization that hit me was the one thing that has altered the culture of my classroom more than anything is the gift of books. A locally-owned small business generously donated enough money for me to purchase probably 400 books. Truthfully, I didn't keep track of how many books I bought and they wouldn't want me to announce how much they gave. Most of the books were purchased on, so some were used, but my kids didn't care one lick.

The point is: my kids have become avid readers. They read in their free time. They are not afraid to announce to their classmates when they love a book or when they don't. They are quick to share the authors and characters they love and they give book recommendations in a split second. They unanimously highly recommend The One and Only Ivan and Wonder. They search for books and engage in them like I honestly can't believe! They fight over new arrivals. They LOVE book trailers.

Before the school year began, I had requested and was turned down for a grant to purchase books. I was so discouraged. But these two guys who own a local business came through (it was a total surprise to me) and because of their generosity my kids are fans of wonderful authors like Jenni Holm, R. J. Palacio, Kate Messner, Stephen McCranie, Barbara O'Conner, Tom Angleberger, Louis Sachar, Cynthia Rylant, Jerry Spinelli, Annie Barrows, Kurtis Scaletta, Lois Lowry, Brian Selznick, Jacqueline Davies, Sara Pennypacker, Linda Urban, Kirby Larson, and sooooo many more. I didn't even know most of these authors existed a year ago. Now, thanks to Bruce and Mike (and Lisa), along with Colby and his circle of friends who have given me lots of great recommendations, I am no longer a strictly-non-fiction-reader; I, too, am an avid reader of great fiction. This is what paved the way for my kids to be avid readers as well.

I have really smart kids in my class. They know what they like and they won't read just anything. They are loving what is great and putting back what is not-so-great. Good for them! And thanks to the wonderful authors who give them that can't-put-it-down literature.

So in my exhausted and reflective state, I am more grateful than words can express to the ones who have made this possible for me and my fourth-graders. Thank you, Colby. Thank you, Bruce and Mike and Lisa. Thank you, authors. You have brought joy into my kids' lives and into mine.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do You Remember Fourth Grade?

When I was in fourth grade I had never heard of the word "blog." Had you? Or "skype," "YouTube," or "Prezi," either, for that matter. As a matter of fact, a computer was kind of like science fiction, with the clunky Commodores being amazingly more technologically advanced than our fancy self-correcting electric typewriters. But those didn't come out until after high school.

When I was in fourth grade I remember my classroom being in the "lower level" (AKA basement) of our school. Our windows were above our heads and we could watch the grass growing along the edge of the panes of glass when we peered out. In a heavy snow, those windows were covered by it, blocking our view of the back playground. My teacher, Mrs. Winfrey, was the only non-white person in the building and yet it fortunately didn't seem strange. She was just like the rest of our teachers: well-respected and a loving authority figure from whom we would learn what we needed to know.  We had paper, pencils, rulers, all-metal scissors, wooden-topped desks with grooves for our pencils, and pink erasers with a smell I loved. We had a blackboard. Not green, certainly not white. A true black blackboard. If you were one of the lucky student-helpers, you got to take the blackboard erasers to the big vacuum once a week by the east entrance to suck out the week's chalk dust. It was an honor to be chosen for that very important task and I remember being envious of students who were chosen. I was never one of them. The other important task in the classroom was washing the blackboard. Only the teachers did this, and it made the board shine a beautiful, almost patent leather shine.

I don't remember anything in particular about fourth grade, except that our classroom was calm. I remember the sunshine and the calendar in kindergarten, the tiered classroom layout in first, second grade's reading circle, practicing cursive and multiplication in third, consoling my distraught long-term substitute teacher and leading the national anthem in fifth, and having my first boyfriend and a not-very-effective teacher in sixth whose lack of control led to some antics from the boys that made some of us girls cringe. Oh, and that was the year I first wore a pair of pants to school: brown paisley corduroy with a back zipper and bell bottoms  Did we learn about decimals in fourth grade? I KNOW we didn't blog or make presentations. I do remember walking across the street during my lunch once a week for my piano and voice lessons, but other than that....nope, not much.

Many of my fourth graders were my first graders three years ago. I can truly say I love them. Often, I'll ask about something from first grade and they'll chime in that they remember it well, and then typically go on to prove it by adding more facts. Sometimes it's something academic, sometimes it's about classroom procedures, and sometimes it's an event we shared. It brings me profound joy that they remember those times. 

Knowing they remember those things also brings me great hope that they will remember fourth grade as a time they learned to love reading. I hope they remember the friends they made through books. I hope they will remember this year as the year they began their first (but not last!) blog to share their learning and their ideas. I hope they will remember this year is when they learned to "choose kind" over winning an argument. Maybe they'll also remember this is the year they learned a particular thing in math or social studies or reading or writing, but more than that, I hope this year they will remember feeling important and capable and eager to learn. And loved and cared for by their teacher.

That is what I hope they will always remember from fourth grade.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tour of Jackson Businesses

Today my kiddos learned about what it would take to be a small business owner, to work in a credit union, to own a catering business, that there are great opportunities in many varied careers at Allegiance, that the most-stolen item at Allegiance Hospital is candles from the gift shop, that steel costs about a dollar per pound, and, most importantly, the more education you get, the more likely you are to make money in our job! They also learned that being a small business owner has its own risks and sometimes pays less than you might think!

All this information came straight from the sources, too, from people who were at their jobs, dressed for their jobs, doing their jobs.

Our first stop was Baker Builders, Inc., run by Mr. Aaron Baker. He and his crew talked to the kids about being a small business and let them practice their hammering and drilling skills! They loved the orange flashlights Mr. Baker gave each of them!

Addie taking her turn at the drill.
Emma practicing her pounding!
Keeley and Merritt,
with Taylor looking on.
Nevaeh is definitely our drill champ!
Jonathan getting some
support from Hunter and Bailey!
A very focused Cole.
Safety first for Katelyn!

Devin getting in his drilling practice.
Hammering practice for Tayla and Kiah!
Michael working on the drill with
buddies waiting their turn!
Taylor doesn't look too
 sure of herself on this!

Danielle smiling at her success!

Our next stop, at CP Federal Credit Union, gave the kids an opportunity to learn the difference between debit and credit cards, along with a host of other financial topics. Seeing a bank vault and asking how many transactions the tellers make in one day, the kids were all hands-on.  The color-change pencils were a big hit, too!

Watching what a teller does in the drive-through.
Mr. Crist telling our students about CP Federal Credit Union

Then we were off to lunch at Gene Davis and Sons Banquet Center, where the kids enjoyed a taco/nacho lunch. They were able to interview Nick Davis, one of the sons, and get valuable information on running a catering and restaurant business!

Our next stop was Allegiance Health, which is Jackson's largest employer! The kids were able to hear from a nurse, a pharmacist, a food service manager, and a security guard, along with the volunteer coordinator of the hospital, who was our contact. They were fascinated with variety of careers available in a hospital! Upon our departure, Mrs. Sayles gave each of the kids (and parents and teachers) a stress ball, which was appreciated by all! :)

Allegiance Health - A nurse talking about what made him
decide on his career. Cool stuff!

A pharmacist at Allegiance Health
talking about her job and education.

The Food Service Manager, who buys $60,000 of groceries each week!!!
Alro Industrial's Mr. Martoia, who wonderfully explained the
process of manufacturing and distribution to our kids!
The final stop of the day was at Alro Industial, with Mr. Rick Martoia as our host. The difference between the hospital's setting and this was a real eye-opener for the kids. They weren't too thrilled with the smell or noise in the plant but were quite taken with how a flame could cut through a thick piece of steel! They were busy taking notes about the whole process Alro goes through, though, and were surprised at how quickly a customer could get an order processed through Alro! When Mr. Martoia presented the kids with their cool Alro black LED flashlights, they were pretty happy campers!

As a follow-up to this amazing trip, the kids began writing about what they remember and learned from the trip. We worked on that in class and will finish them up after Thanksgiving break!

We truly appreciate the time and energy each of these businesses put in to make this trip a success!!! What a fantastic day!!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Questions Abound

Coretta Scott King Award with
a wonderful message on eating disorders.

Cover art for PICKLE
New author, Kim Baker,
and middle grade book! Yay!
As a teacher I am constantly questioning what is the most important "thing" to teach and what is the most effective way to make it stick in the lives of kids.

I find that although more coursework is required of us as teachers, much of the money spent is wasteful. What  has become truly valuable to me in the classroom is what I learn from admirable individuals who can be found on the internet and in my personal network. People (usually teachers and/or writers) who blog and truly hold and inspire depth of insight. Or share ideas and book titles.

I can honestly say that other than two very influential professors I had in college, the folks who influence me the most in my teaching are my colleagues, my nephew, and the people with whom he has connected me. Some of those have come directly from him and some in a circuitous fashion.

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Earth's Strangest Animals: Hearst, Michael
This way cool book is non-fiction and
I KNOW my kids will love it!
Tonight I have learned about three new incredible books I will be adding to my classroom library. I have also had my position shifted on the value of teaching cursive in school (is it more important than learning new vocabulary words?) I gained more helpful knowledge on how to help my kids blog about the books they're reading today, too, and how to imbed a Prezi in my blog. Oh, and is it typical to have more than thirteen tabs open while being online? (I am NOT ADD.)

I have always felt that I am a highly effective educator. I love on my kids, give them the perverbial kick in the seat or words of encouragement when they need it, and stay on top of the curriculum. I've always insisted kids turn out their best work on time. However, if you would have seen my classroom a few years ago you wouldn't recognize it now, except for the fact that the colors are still research-based ones to enhance concentration and calm, both a very high value for me! I have made fewer copies of student worksheets this year than ever. Not because of yet another grad class, but because of the incredibly smart people I get to stalk on the internet.

I must grade papers, but I had to get that off my chest. Thanks.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creativity and a Thesaurus

Friday was an incredibly busy day in our fourth grade classroom. Our first endeavor was to fine tune and publish our own version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" using other words taken from a thesaurus. This turned out to be a truly valuable lesson in how to appropriately use this reference tool, as we often needed to consider whether our word was being used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb! It was an idea passed on to me by my fellow fourth grade teacher, Bre, who had gotten the idea from another teacher's blog. It turned out to be more time-consuming than I had predicted, but what the kids learned from it made the time well-spent! Look for pictures on the next post!

We also had a major project to work on in the afternoon!  Thanks to Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, my kids are plowing through books in my classroom. They are trying to get "first dibs" on new books that come in (although our once generous book fund is nearly depleted so the new titles will be slowing down). They are making pretty amazing book talks. They are beginning to blog and making Prezis, too. And they're having fun reading picture books out loud to their kindergarten book buddies.

Danielle's version of the class pet!
Combining those picture book characters with the pumpkins we brought back from our visit to the pumpkin farm this week was a perfect fit.  My fellow fourth grade teacher, Bre, found and used an idea last year from and we just HAD to "steal" it. I have also seen quite a few ideas similar to this on Pinterest, but since our class has been delving into characters so much, it was too great of an opportunity to pass up!! And we have amazing results to share!
Love this expression on Splat!

Calvin a la Nick!

McKenzie's Princess

Ladybug Girl!! 
Fancy Nancy with blue lips
Pumpkin Princess Aurora!

Check out those ears on Olivia!!! 

Can you believe the ultra-cute paws??

Gotta love those eyes!!
Okay, I ADORE this one!

Another Olivia!

A Mercer Mayer duo...Award for Best Couple.
This one gets the "Best Use of Felt" award!!! Bad Kitty!!!

I absolutely adore this one, too, even though I've never read the book!! Thanks, Devin!

Now THAT's personality plus!! Love the teeth!

The kids did this 100% on their own during class time. They worked carefully ahead of time to identify character traits as well as the supplies they would need to complete their project and were totally engaged throughout the entire process. I went shopping the night before to be sure they had what they had requested and as you can see, the results are fabulous! The ONLY down-side to this is that those pumpkins will not last forever, darn it!!!

Some of the kids didn't quite finish because of paint not drying, glue not working, or some other technical malfunction, but overall, I'd say they did an outstanding job. they also left me with lots to clean up over the weekend!!! :) But they're SO worth it!

What a great group of kiddos!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Culture Shock

So how do you inspire kids? How do you get them to be creative? How do you motivate them to become more? Put a book in their hands they don't want to put down.

In the weeks that have passed since the first day of school this year, my fear of having an extended time dedicated to reading in class has been replaced with the regret of not having done it sooner for my students. My kids are devouring books. Beyond my wildest imagination. Then they are doing book talks on them, beginning to blog about them, and telling their friends about them.

There are many days I feel as though I'm not very clever and creative. I look at various websites with all the cute stuff kids can do in the classroom; see how the other teachers in my building have all these amazingly creative activities for their kids hanging from the ceilings and displayed in the halls, and I'm (frankly) intimidated. I have to fight the "keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome. I have to will myself to stop those thoughts and go put a protective plastic cover on a book jacket. And don't forget the sticker that indicates the genre and the stamp showing who donated it. 

The cute stuff really is fun AND educationally effective. I don't want to allude to anything otherwise. And I don't want to make my classroom all or nothing one way or the other. The point I'm trying to make (to myself) is that this new paradigm I've found is an amazing, eye-opening, life-changing way to reach every single student. It has me more excited about teaching than ever. And I was pretty excited already.

My kids are pretty well-versed on authors, genres, and characters. In fact, they sometimes like to argue about the genre of their book. They are stoked about skyping with an author tomorrow. They can hardly wait for their turn to work on their blog. On an almost daily basis at least one student will tell me she needs another "book sign-out" sheet because hers is full. That's never ever happened in my classroom before this year. It's a total shift in culture. It's nothing short of amazing.

My kids want to read their books so much they sometimes try to sneak their own book instead of the required picture book when we meet with our kindergarten reading buddies! Yeah, one of my kids wanted to read Wonderstruck or Amulet or Holes something. To a five-year-old. I redirected the two of them to a amazing picture book that both of them would adore.

So this shift in the atmosphere of my classroom has had, I'm thinking, some pretty profound effects on my students. I'm sure this will affect the results of our state test scores. During our state testing last week, one of my students read Breadcrumbs and A Crooked Kind of Perfect in two days. After she was done with her tests. Maybe she just filled in circles so she could get back to the important stuff.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Field Trip to a Pumpkin Farm

Okay,  I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical about today's field trip. 

It was in place before I came to fourth grade and going to a pumpkin farm sounds rather, well, weak, to be honest. Nothing delights me more than to be able to report this was an entirely engaging, hands-on learning experience for our kids. 

They listened with rapt attention while Farmer Tom told them about the fishery he runs with over 60,000 rainbow trout. He let the kids look at the babies, the "teenagers" and the "grown-ups," showed them how they are sorted, what they do when they're fed, why they're called rainbow trout, and even let them in on the reason he has so many fish. His answer surprised me! Surprisingly, he even let the kids get up close and personal with fish, being careful to let all the kids examine it carefully and making sure the fish wasn't out of the water too long.

For kids who weren't aquatic animal lovers, Farmer Tom also has some goats and a llama. After a short feeding and petting time, we made our way to the wagons for a nice ride.

Riding the wagon on a "hay ride" (no hay, but who's going to argue this point, right?) was the highlight for many of the kids. With an old noisy tractor pulling us, Farmer Tom would make make stops at various places, pointing out beaver dams, explaining the differences between harvested and non-harvested pumpkin fields, letting kids dig for arrow heads (my kids found eight!) and showing a site where it is believed there was a Native American village.

The end of our wagon ride brought us back to the front of the farm and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Big Fish, a Native American who is very knowledgeable about his heritage. He kept the kids' attention with his explanation of his clothing, his tools, and his ancestors' ways. He had many authentic baskets, weapons, and animal skins he had hunted, skinned, and tanned himself using traditional methods. The grand finale was when Big Fish started a fire using flint in about ten seconds. He became a super hero in that ten seconds if he hadn't become one already.

With lunch at the tail end of our trip, the kids had plenty to talk about and were ready, with help from Harley, the farm's dog, to pick out a pumpkin and head back to school. 

All of that adventure was truly great food for writing so they all wrote about what they enjoyed or were most impressed with from the day. It was wonderful to see a vast array of ideas and to see more of the kids bring details into their writing.

Days like these are worth remembering and writing about.